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The economic development of every country with serious mineral potential is mainly based, to a large extent, on the exploitation and processing of mineral resources

Serbia is becoming ever more attractive for investment in mining, which is not surprising if one is aware that it has extremely significant mining potential. But not only that, the fact that as many as 30 of a total of 70 companies actively engaged in geological surveys in the country are foreign confirms that conditions have been created to guarantee investors security for their investments in this important economic sector, says Ivan Janković, assistant energy minister, speaking in this interview for CorD.

The territory of the Balkans is increasingly attractive for geological exploration. In our country alone, more than 50 companies are searching for various minerals, half of which are operating with foreign capital. Does this mean that individual deposit sites show significant reserves that are sufficient for opening a mine, and where are those sites?

– It should primarily be emphasised that the Republic of Serbia is a country with pronounced high attractiveness for investments in the mining sector and that it possesses significant mineral potential. There are more than 70 geological survey companies currently present, 30 of which participate with foreign capital. The reason for this certainly lies in the fact that conditions have been created in the mining sector that guarantee certainty for investors regarding their investments. Reserves have also been proven at some sites, while others have exceptionally high potential. At the end of 2019, major copper and gold reserves were confirmed by a state commission, or more specifically a task force, at the Čukaru Peki mine near Bor, where research was conducted at the end of 2019 by the Rakita company from Bor, which belongs to Chinese company Zijin. This is the first large amount of confirmed reserves of ore with high metal content after many decades. The project is in the preparatory phase of opening a mine.

Another site that’s very significant from the aspect of future mining activities is certainly Jadar and the works being implemented by Rio Tinto via its company Rio Sava Exploration, which is registered in the Republic of Serbia. Estimated reserves of lithium at the site in question are so high that the opening of a mine and launching of exploitation would create the potential to supply 10 per cent of global demand for this metal, which would position Serbia as one of the world’s leading suppliers of lithium.

The unique new mineral Jadarite is being researched In Western Serbia. However, most permits have been issued to companies that are seeking gold and copper. Is this true and does it mean that we have those ores the most or that they sell the best?

– As I stated previously, Jadar is a very significant site and a new mineral composed of boron (B) and lithium (Li) has been discovered there and named after the locality of Jadar – Jadarite. Lithium isn’t present in this mineral form anywhere else in the world, and thus Jadar falls among unique lithium deposits. It should also be noted that lithium only became interesting for application and research relatively recently, and that some technologies for the production of this metal have yet to be elaborated in full detail. On the other hand, metals like copper, gold, zinc and lead have been exploited for centuries, and their exploitation and processing is so well perfected that there’s no room for unknowns. Perhaps, on the basis of the aforementioned, one should – among other things – seek reasons for greater interest among companies exploring copper and gold, and then also other metals.

According to the latest available data, geological surveys are being conducted at more than 120 locations. Does the state, as the owner of mineral resources, also have information from companies that have ceased exploring in certain locations? 

– Geological surveys are currently being carried out in more than 160 exploratory fields, including 140 just in central Serbia. According to legal regulations, the mining area is defined in such a way that each holder of a permit for geological surveying is obliged to submit the results of their geological survey to the Ministry of Mining and Energy after a certain period of exploration. The same is true for those companies that have abandoned exploration. Thus, the state has data on surveys being performed or that have been performed by companies in specific locations.

Local governments also benefit from exploitation in terms of employment, but also rent payments. How much do companies pay for each square kilometre of space they survey. What do the charges range from and to?

– A distinction must be made between fees for geological surveying and fees for utilisation of mineral resources, or for exploitation. Companies pay a geological survey fee in accordance with the Law on Fees, and that fee currently stands at 10,100 dinars per square kilometre per year of prospecting, and its financial impact is far lower than that of exploitation fees. However, the precursor to every exploitation is geological surveying, so it is for this reason that the investments they bring are important.

Geological surveys are currently being carried out in more than 160 exploratory fields, including 140 just in central Serbia

Mineral exploration is important for every country. What kind of economic importance does it have for Serbia? How expensive, and how lucrative, is this business, and is that the reason companies engaged in this business in Serbia are largely foreign?

– The economic development of every country with serious mineral potential is mainly based, to a large extent, on the exploitation and processing of mineral resources. We can say that investments in the mining sector are of huge importance to the economic advancement of our country. As I pointed out earlier, high-quality geological surveys are of great importance to every example of the exploitation and processing of ores, because the data obtained represent input parameters for planning extraction and processing activities.

On the other hand, geological surveys are very expensive, especially when it comes to exploring metallic mineral resources. These are surveys that are primarily conducted in the field and encompass drilling, excavation, various mining facilities with the aim of taking samples and more. All this requires considerable resources, especially if we take into consideration that a wellresearched deposit requires the carrying out of a large number of the previously mentioned works in a not-so-short period of time. Likewise, investing in them represents a major risk for every company, because at the start of surveying it isn’t known whether it will result in the finding of a new deposit or without tangible results.

Are there any limitations to the geological surveying process? How long can they last and can decisions on surveying be extended?

– There are rights and obligations for every company that conducts surveying, and they are defined by the Law on Mining and Geological Surveys. Geological surveying is done on the basis of a project that must be in compliance with the conditions of the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia and the competent Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments. The maximum length of geological surveys depends on the type of mineral resource being sought. For example, surveying for metallic minerals – with all the extensions of surveying rights – can last for a maximum of 10 years. For non-metallic minerals, the surveying period is much shorter and totals up to 3 years, with all extensions of surveying rights.